Tag Archives: myth

The story of the Popocatepetl

Main piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer. 

Infromant: The story of the Popocatepetl is of a umm…. I think of an Aztec warrior. He pretty much falls in love with her but is called into battle. So before he goes he tells her dad that upon returning, he will marry his daughter with his permission. The dad allows it and he goes but the news breakouts that he dies in battle. 

Interviewer: So he dies? What happens then with her? 

Informant: No he doesn’t die but the news got to her and the dad and she ends up dying from depression and loneliness. A week later he comes back from war, with riches and honor, but finds out she’s dead. So he asks the dad if he can take her body to give her a proper ceremony. He allows it and Popocatepetl takes her to the top of a pyramid. He holds a torch and watches her body. He plans to stay the night and he does but umm there’s a snow fall and he gets buried in it. Over time, annual rain and snowfall buries them even more and the mountaintop becomes the volcano that you can see from the house in Mexico. 

Interviewer: Oh it’s that volcano? I remember that name but I wasn’t sure it was the same name. 

Informant: Yeah that’s his body… his spirit. And whenever the volcano erupts or has activity… It means that Popocatepetl is remembering his love for the Aztec princess. 

Background: My informant here was my grandma who’s staying with us during COVID-19. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico but lives in the U.S. with us for the most part. She says that she heard about this story from school textbooks and that she always remembers the story whenever there’s news about Popocatepec’s volcanic activity. For her it represents a true love story and a tragedy. She says that there is no longer love like that one in today’s world. 

Context: I asked my grandma during dinner if she can tell me the story of Popocatepetl because my mom heard it from my grandma but I wanted to get someone else’s view on it so I asked her. She complied and gave me this version while I recorded. Setting was at our house during dinner so it provided nice entertainment and I personally loved the story. 

Thoughts: I really enjoyed the story. When my grandma finished, my sister and I looked at each other and said “wow that’s true love” at the same time. I had known about the volcano for many years but I had never heard about the story behind it. I want to say I don’t believe in it fully but I do admire the love they had for each other. That love is scarce in today’s world so it was nice hearing that story. 

Mexican myth

Main piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: A ritual that you have to do, no matter if you are Mexican, German, Chinese, American… it doesn’t matter what nationality you are. Everyone does this when they go up the first time. 

Interviewer: Wait what? Where?

Informant: Oh umm at the pyramids of Teotihuacan, the ones we’ve gone to in Mexico. 

Interviewer: Oh ok. I know what you’re talking about. 

Informant: When you go up the sun pyramid, you count the steps, all 365 of them and once you’re at the summit. At the top of the pyramid there is a circle etched in the center and a hole where your finger fits. When you’re there, you have to raise your hands towards the sky so that Quetzalcoatl, the sun god, fills you with energy, purifies you, gives you wisdom and fortifies you that year. 

Interviewer: And everyone does it? 

Informant: Ahhh! Don’t you remember when we went, we have pictures of us raising our hands. And the people around us were raising their hands towards the sky. All the people, doesn’t matter what nationality, sex, or religion… Everyone does this when going up the sun pyramid for the first time. 

Background: My informant was my dad. He was born in Mexico City as well. He knows pretty much every touristic area in Mexico because he traveled a lot in his 20s and 30s when he was a marathon runner. He’s taken me to the pyramids before, and after collecting the performance, he helped my mom find pictures of us raising our hands when we reached the summit of the sun pyramid. 

Context: I just asked my dad if there were any cool stories or myths he knew about for a project I’m working on. He asked “what do you mean” and I responded with “anything, a story or a myth” and he proceeded with the myth about the sun pyramid. The setting was in our backyard as we were taking a break from yard work. 

Thoughts: I was a kid when we went to the pyramids of teotihuacan and I remember going up a bunch of steps. The pictures helped me fill in some gaps but I never knew the hand-raising to receive energy was a thing. I thought we did it just as a pose or something, but after hearing the myth, I was impressed with it. It’s something that traces back to the Aztecs and something that tourists from all over the world do, so I found that pretty enticing.

La Llorona legend

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: The llorona was a woman, a very beautiful woman but very poor. And well… she was very pretty so a lot of men went after her but she fell in love with a wealthy man. 

Interviewer: Did she marry him? 

Informant: Yes, they marry but… um the husband’s father didn’t like her because she was poor. I don’t know if it was in the revolution, yes or actually I’m not sure. The point is that in the revolution, the husband gets killed. And the father-in-law took her kids to educate them himself and left her on the street. She pretty much loses everything, and he makes sure to leave her nothing. 

Interviewer: And did she kill herself or what? 

Informant: No, she saw death and hunger and war but she was always looking for her children. She sees a lot of things that haunt her. She cried for her children and would call others to help her find her children but no one believed her because of her poor appearance. And finally, she dies searching for her children… but she dies sick, unprotected, poor, and crazy for everything she lived and saw with the wars in that time. She dies young, she doesn’t die old. But she always expressed the love and her necessity in finding her children. And from that point on, in the pueblos… umm it’s said that since she dies without finding her children, her soul never rests and she goes about yelling through the walls and streets searching and calling for her children.

Interviewer: This version is very different from the story I hear all the time. 

Informant: This story was the one that my grandmother would tell me and my sister and she would say that La Llorona was very beautiful… but very beautiful. And in the ranch, when the sun was setting, my aunt would call us in because in Queretaro… write down that it was in Queretaro… 

Interviewer: Yeah I got it. 

Informant: Ok so in Queretaro when a boy or girl went missing, my aunt would say it was La Llorona, or that the Llorona would take them. And she wouldn’t let us play after sunset. Anything that happened to young kids: a disease or a death or a disappearance… anything really…  for almost anything, it was said it was La Llorona. 

Background: My informant was my mom who was born in Mexico City. She heard this story of La Llorona since she was a kid and she’s seen a lot of variations but carries with this one the most. She heard this story from her grandmother, my great grandmother, who is 104 years old. So since my great grandmother lived during the Mexican Revolution, my mom thinks her story is plausible. 

Context: I didn’t tell her I was doing this for a project at first so I asked her “is La Llorona evil?” and she responded with “no” and I continued by asking “wait. What story do you know?” and then the main piece was transcribed from our conversation and her story telling. The setting was my house. 

Thoughts: I found this version of La Llorona very interesting because it was the first time I heard it like this. From this story, I actually felt bad she was taken away from her children. I no longer see her as the murderer of her children. I enjoyed this story and will be telling this version from now on. 

Citation: For more information and variations of La Llorona, check out the following sources.

  1. Carbonell, Ana Maria “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros” in MELUS, Vol.24, Religion, Myth, and Ritual. (Summer, 1999), pp. 53-74. 
  1. Chavez, Michael “The Curse of La Llorona” film, (Spring, 2019).

Meaning of the Dove’s Cooing

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father, that was told to him in a casual setting during his childhood in a Pakistani village.

Background: The informant was recounting some common sayings that his aunts and older relatives mentioned in their everyday life. This particular saying is an explanation for the cooing of doves, mentioned to him by both of his aunts. Such things were told in a matter-of-fact manner, and widespread throughout the region.

Main piece: 

Aunt: Do you hear the sound of the dove cooing? It always makes the same sound over and over again, ‘Coo coo coo’. If you listen closely, however, you can see that it sounds like it is saying, ‘Yusuf coo’. 

Informant: Why would it say that?

Aunt: It’s been saying that for hundreds of years, after the prophet Yusuf (Joseph) was thrown down the well by his brothers. Ever since then, the dove has been trying to let everybody know what happened to him.

Analysis: This is another myth that I hadn’t heard before, attempting to connect the unique cooing of the dove to a sacred, religious story. ‘coo’ in Punjabi, the language that the informant and those around him were speaking, translates to ‘well’. 

Tamales in Christmas

Main piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Interviewer: Can you tell me about the tamales? When you make them for Christmas? 

Informant: Oh of course! Well you know how it works. Everyone has to contribute in one way or another. For example, your mom and sister help me with the preparation and you and your dad put the money. And that way everyone puts their share. 

Interviewer: But isn’t there like a myth where if you get mad, the tamales don’t cook? 

Informant: That’s very true so don’t you dare get mad. 

Interviewer: But why? What happens? Or how do they not cook? 

Informant: They just don’t, don’t you remember 2 years ago we had to start over because your mom got mad and they didn’t cook. 

Interviewer: Oh yeah but maybe that’s just a coincidence? 

Informant: No it is real. And if you get mad you have to dance or they won’t cook. 

Background: My informant here was my grandma who’s staying with us during COVID-19. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico but lives in the U.S. with us for the most part. She has been helping us make tamales every year for Christmas. She says that when she was younger, her family would circle around a table and each person a specific task in making the tamales. 

Context: I sat down with my grandma and asked her about this myth. I didn’t tell her it was for a project but I just brought it up and then recorded the interview above. The setting was first in the kitchen and then proceeded to the living room. 

Thoughts: I’ve heard of this myth in Mexico before from other family but my mom and grandma tell it to us all the time around christmas time. Getting mad is very bad so I usually just go to my room to avoid anything of the fuss. I don’t think it’s true. Maybe if you get mad, you don’t have the same desire or mood to cook and it’s easier to mess up. But I don’t think it has a direct relationship but I find it cool that it’s a very common myth in Mexico. 

Diwali

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about holidays and celebrations.

Piece:

Diwali is called the Festival of Lights. This is kind of associated with on of our mythologies, which is Ramayana, where Rama, who is a prince, was sent to exile for fourteen years. Rama’s father was a king, married three times. By rule, what happens is the eldest son is successor to the throne. But, what happened was, the middle wife goes to the king, who in the past helped him a couple of times, and the king had said, “I want to grant you two wishes, since you took such good care of me.”

And she said, “I don’t need anything now, but when the time comes, I’ll ask you for my wishes.”

So when her children grew up, she went to the king and said, “Now you have to grant me my two wishes.”

So the king goes, “Okay, tell me what you want me to do.”

She says, “I want you to send your oldest son to exile for fourteen years, and I want you to make my son the king.”

The king was very upset, he’s like, “That is unheard of – you cannot do that.”

But she says, “You said you would grant me two wishes, those are the only two wishes I have.”

And the oldest son, who was very respectful of his father, says, “You know what? If that’s what you had promised her, I don’t mind. I’ll go into exile for fourteen years, and I’ll come back after that.”

So he goes into exile, and there are a whole bunch of stories about what happens when he’s away. But, the day that he comes back to his kingdom after being in exile, the whole country was lit up with diyas to welcome him back, since he was such a good person. And that’s the day we also – since it was believed that, when he comes back to the kingdom, there will be wealth and prosperity – worship the goddess of wealth, since it is believed that, on Diwali, that is the day that wealth and prosperity will come to your house.

So you will see all Hindu households light candles, exchange sweets, exchange gifts and clothes: it is a huge time of celebration. There is one thing we also do, and it is kind of related to your Halloween. We also light a lot of fireworks that day, because we say we are scaring away the evil with the fireworks; and we are welcoming the good by welcoming the candles and the diyas.

 

(Later, after asking about the religious nature of the holidays)

 

RB: We call it religious, but they are more social religious than just religious, because it all involves inviting people, having dinners, lunches, dressing up, having music and dances. There’s a lot of culture that is associated with these festivals, so it is not that you’re just in the temple, reciting hymns or chanting. That is a very small part. It’s all about dressing up, looking good, and eating food. That is how we keep in touch with each other. At these festivals, at these religious ceremonies as we call it, we go visit each other. We keep in touch with each other and socialize with each other. I think we use it more for socializing and less for religion, which is how it should be.

One thing I want to clarify is that Hinduism is not a religion. It is mostly a way of life. And that is why you can’t be converted to Hinduism: because, either you are born one or you’re not. And if you are born one, you are taught the way of life since you’re born. But, you can still marry into it. We do not require people to change their religion when you marry, because we just think that when you come to a Hindu household, you will learn the way of life. Hinduism does not require that you go to a temple everyday, or pray everyday. They just teach us that everything should be a part of your life: that you clean your house and take care of each other, etc.

 

Analysis:

It was very interesting to hear how RB views Hinduism – not as much of as a religion, but more as a culture and lifestyle. Hearing the mythologies of these holidays with this context explains why there is seemingly more variation in the ways people tell these stories. It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and will use religious holidays as excuses to throw large social celebrations. It seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

The Royal Toe

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. We were discussing a folk tale that she had heard while studying abroad in London in the prior year.

 

Background: My informant expressed that she was unaware of how the tale or myth began, but it was one that she heard on several occasions. There are many different myths regarding what the different length of fingers or toes mean, but this one in particular involves the royal family.

 

Main Piece: “The myth is, if your second toe is longer than your big toe, you come from a royal bloodline. There was a similar one that said you were related to Princess Diana specifically. I was sitting at dinner with a few friends one night, and one girl was wearing open toed shoes. She had this special toe apparently, and our waiter pointed it out and told her it meant that she comes from the bloodline of the royal family. I just thought it was kind of strange, so a few of the times that I was in a conversation with a local I asked them about it and all said the same thing. I couldn’t tell if anyone really truly believed it, but everyone definitely knew about it.”

 

Analysis: I had never heard of the myth of the Royal Toe, so after doing some research I learned that many famous statues exhibit the “royal toe” as well – one famous example being the Statue of Liberty. It’s interesting to see the different symbolic meaning identified to the length of a digit, and how it’s manifested in different cultures and countries.

 

Krasue in South Asian Folklore

NC: So there’s this story about crossaway or crosu (Krasue) I don’t know exactly how to pronounce the name but in southeast asian folklore she is supposed to be a very beautiful woman and she’s only a head, so she’s a decapitated head and her entails are hanging out and she’s supposed to float around uh a building- a haunted building or something um she’s- I think she’s searching for something and she might also kill anyone who comes into the building. That’s all I’ve heard about it.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Southeast Asia

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. NC approached me in person in response to the text and had just discovered this creature herself. 

 

Analysis: Krasue is physically unlike any other “monster” or creature I have heard of before. I was particularly interested in the dichotomy between the woman’s beauty and the grotesqueness of her lower half. For me, this hints at a commentary about how women are viewed around the world globally: her head is attached but her body has been ripped apart by what exactly? If women often fall victim to objectification, then it makes sense that this lore would depict her “body” has being completely consumed by something else or at least lost to something or someone besides herself. Additionally, the fact that she is bound by a building, confirms the archetypical “domestic” woman, but the threat she poses to anyone else trying to reside in her household disrupts this stereotype and protects the space as her own.

Kissing your elbow

Text

INFORMANT: My dad use to always tell me that if you could kiss your elbow it would turn you into the opposite gender.

 

Background

The informant actually believed this myth to be true when he was little. He originally learned it from his dad but heard it again from his classmates.He found the myth entertaining and said it gave him this belief that there is some sort of magic in the world. He notes that he was scared of becoming a girl and therefore scared of kissing elbow.

 

Context

The informant grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and is currently in his early 50s, living in Dallas, Texas.

 

Thoughts

This myth plays into the childhood disdain for the opposite gender. This “boys rule and girls drool” mentality makes the idea that there is a way to turn into the option gender a very scary one. Additionally, a child growing up in the south in this time would be very unfamiliar with the transgender community, so the concept of changing genders did seem magical and strange. The aspects made the myth very entertaining for the informant and his friends.

 

Pele: The Hawaiian Volcano Goddess

Abstract: Pele (pell-ay) is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. The reason this is both a myth and a legend is because the story takes place in both the real world and outside of it. The origin story of how volcanoes in Hawaii came to be and the fact that Pele is a goddess and acts sort of like Greek Gods reason that she is mythological. However, she is a shapeshifter that normally takes the place of an older woman on Earth, so this would make her a legend.

 Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date. DM compares the Hawaiian gods, like Pele, to Greek mythology. They all have their own responsibility on Earth. She dives into the effects of what Pele can do from a story from her father. 

About Pele:

 DM: She is the goddess of volcanoes and takes many forms, but her most common form is an old Hawaiian lady. For context, the only volcano that has a chance of erupting is Kileaua on the big island. Anyway, my dad’s cousin was getting married there, and they were driving home from some party or something a few days before the wedding. And on the main highway, they see this old Hawaiian lady with long gray hair walking on the side. They thought maybe it was Pele, but they were scared so just kept driving. And then on their wedding day, the volcano erupted.

S: So is she someone to be scared of in person like does she cause immediate danger in human form?

DM: Well, I mean, she is a fiery goddess, but she isn’t dangerous. But like you’re supposed to be nice to her, and when they didn’t pick her up she reacted. There are some legends that when a volcano erupts, the lava will go around houses of people who have been nice to her.

S: But like, how do you tell her apart from any other old Hawaiian woman?

DM: You don’t.

 

Interpretation: Pele seems to have undeniable power and garners a lot of respect from the people of Hawaii. The lesson underlying this goddess is to respect your elders. Especially when told to young kids, Pele seems like a mean old lady that can destroy your house and kill you in a fiery pool of lava if you do not show kindness. Since no one really knows what she actually looks like, the people of Hawaii must learn to be nice to all elderly women or possibly suffer the consequences. This portrays Hawaii to be matrilineal and caring of the females, especially the elders, in the community. If Pele was only a myth, there would be no real lesson to treat elders with respect. Since she take the form of an old lady, and, at this point, becomes a legend, citizens will apply the respectful manner to almost all old women to not take any chances of having a really bad day with some lava.

 

For more on Pele, see Legends and Myths of Hawaii by David Kalākaua, 1888, page 46.

 

Kalakaua, David. Legends and Myths of Hawaii. Book On Demand Ltd, 2013.